Being sober means, like me, you're probably at home, curled up on the sofa with a bar of chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea more often than you used to be. There's nothing wrong with that. (I'm actually much happier stuffing Lindt balls in my face than I was necking wines and dancing on tables.)
Nowadays, there's nothing I enjoy more that settling into a good doco or a bit of 'Recovery TV' on a Friday night. Give me anything gritty and honest. As an ex-boozer I'm obsessed with the tumultuous stories of others, the truth and trauma behind addiction. I'm fascinated in how people break free from the clutches of their habit and find a path to recovery. Discovering shows that resonate can be utterly inspirational when questioning substance issues or experiencing mental heath problems and, like podcasts and quit lit, TV can be a helpful tool in your own personal sobriety story.
Trigger warning - Please be aware - some of these TV shows will be triggering as they depict addicts at their most vulnerable and feature sexual abuse, violence and severe, end of life situations. Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby too, you will need them.
1. The Virtues – On Stan (watch the trailer here)
Stephen Graham is incredible in this very real portrayal of one man’s struggle with alcohol and the demons from his past. The Virtues centres around Joseph who, struggling to recover from his addiction to alcohol, finds his world beginning to spiral when his ex-partner moves away from Liverpool to Australia to start a new life with their young son. Feeling like he has no close family to live for, he sets off for the south of Ireland to confront repressed memories from his childhood years in care and to reconnect with his long-lost sister Anna, who until now had thought her brother was dead. The story is so riveting and there is one scene which depicts the main character on a night out. He begins with good intentions and ends up in his flat covered in vomit. It’s is hard to watch perhaps because I could see myself in him. A must watch.
2. Louis Theroux - Drinking to Oblivion. Stan and ABC iView watch the trailer here
You’re always guaranteed quality when watching Louis. He asks the right questions in his deadpan, very British way; which means the interviewees answer him honestly and openly. In this brilliant series Louis heads to Europe's largest liver transplant centre where he sees the physical side effects of alcoholism and learns about the challenges doctors, patients and patients' families face in trying to treat it. The program is confronting because the stories are of 'normal drinkers' (is there such a thing?) whose drinking patterns have somehow got completely out of control. There is one young man named Joe in the show who seems very intellectual with everything going for him, his drinking has just spiralled since a painful breakup. The show is a great representation of how alcohol does not discriminate and how anyone can end up in turmoil. Heartbreaking, moving and sincere.
3. Amy – The Amy Winehouse story. Available on Netflix. (watch the trailer here)
This one is very sad. Because I'm a fan and because its a story we all predicted. We watched the slow demise of this truly amazing talent, but we all hoped she would be the one who overcame her issues. This story is one that is often repeated within the music industry. The documentary covers her early life, her love life and her complicated relationship with her father. The footage is fantastic, you get to see inside her life and there is some ‘before unseen’ performances that make your skin tingle. Rare home videos and interviews with Amy’s inner circle offer an intimate look at her journey from charismatic teen to unsettled star. An emotional watch but a necessary one.
4. Lil Peep – Everybody’s Everything – Netflix. (watch the trailer here)
I had never heard of this young Emo Rapper (I am a 44-year-old mother of three!) until I watched this incredible, painfully intimate documentary about his life. Lil Peep took vast amounts of footage of himself during his rise to fame, so this film tells the real story of a life changing from a small-town boy to someone with the world at their feet. Peep, Born Gustav Ahr, a child of two Harvard graduates, began rapping as a teenager to fight off panic attacks. His route to success was exuberant, with a sense that newfound paths to stardom were now possible: He met collaborators via the internet and often self-released his hypnotic songs, seemingly at the spur of the moment. Many were made on a laptop computer in his bedroom. In this tragic documentary Peep, who is then still a young man, has to learn how to manage the trappings of fame alongside a pill addiction. Incredible footage and a drug lesson for the modern era. A tragic tale of success and loss.
5. This Way Up - Stan - Comedy series tackling mental health. (watch the trailer here)
This is the best series I've seen in many years. The show follows two sisters with an authentic and heart warming relationship. The main character is played by Aisling Bea who also is the writer of the show. She's a tormented, yet hugely lovable woman trying to put her life back together after suffering a nervous breakdown. The show is relatable with many brilliant one liners and highlights the stigma around mental health (as she is often trying to hide how she is really feeling inside.) This is binge worthy TV and the second series is even funnier than the first. I felt a real camaraderie with these strong, wild women and could see part of myself in their flawed characters . By the end; I felt like they were my friends - weird? watch it and tell me otherwise. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
6. Drinkers Like Me – Documentary with Adrian Chiles. BBC (watch the trailer here)
It’s not often you get to witness someone in that stage of ‘questioning’ their drinking habit on TV. In this insightful documentary we follow TV presenter Adrian Chiles as he goes on his own personal sober curious journey. He knows he drinks too much, but isn’t sure if it’s affecting his health or if he really needs to quit. It's a roller coaster of emotions as he visits doctors and promises to cut down and gets advise from sober mates such as Frank Skinner - yet no matter how hard he tries... his social desires to drink often outweigh his health concerns. Adrian takes a deep look at his love of booze, exploring his past and why he can’t imagine a life without it. The reason I enjoyed this documentary was because of his vulnerability and honesty. His habit is so ingrained that even though he knows he shouldn’t be drinking, he can’t stop. He reminds me of me and a lot of people I know. A social drinker with no off switch. I really resonated with his sober curious journey and his denial of the problem. It’s nice to see that social drinking is also represented in the mainstream as well as the more extreme. Cheerful, honest and relatable.
7. Intervention - Available on Netflix and A&E (watch trailer here)
I think I've watched nearly every single episode of this award winning documentary series. (My new addiction) The program takes you on a journey following the life of a real addict. Their addiction being anything from Crack, Heroin or Meth, to alcohol, gambling and prescription medication. The addicts volunteer to be filmed not knowing that the film crew and experts are going to try to get them into a Rehab clinic at the end of the show. This is the most in-depth insight you will ever see into the life of a user. You see the damage it causes to not only the addict himself, but also the families. As a viewer you witness them scoring their drug of choice, hiding their addictions from loved ones and how they are supporting their habit, often prostitution and theft. The documentary digs into the past of each addict and tries to uncover what has caused their problem which leaves you with nothing but empathy for each troubled soul. Most of the addictions are trauma based so be aware, this show might trigger some watchers with its very profound look into the histories of addicts. I’m always on the edge of my seat, shouting at the TV at the end of each episode, desperate for the addict to accept treatment. The best bit is as the credits roll you get to see images of the ex-addict after three months of recovery. Inspiring, motivating and real. Don’t miss it.
8. All This Mayhem – Skateboarding Documentary – Netflix (watch the trailer here)
In this thought provoking documentary you follow the lives of two amazing skate boarder brothers from Melbourne. The story starts from humble beginnings and crashes as their happy lives and successful careers get lost in addiction.With a strong story at its core and the archive footage to back it up, All This Mayhem proves to be not only an engrossing story but an important one as well. It highlights the lack of support young stars receive when making money for large corporations, and these young skateboarders end up getting overlooked by the people that should be helping them, and caring for their well-being, just like Amy W. This documentary captivated me from the start as the characters are so laid back, cheeky and likeable. There is nothing more heart breaking than a wasted talent. Unfortunately, drugs, success and fame seem to go hand in hand. A must watch for everyone, not just skaters.
9. The Queen’s Gambit - Netflix. (watch the trailer here)
The Queen’s Gambit is a gritty and brutally honest depiction of a woman resorting to drugs and alcohol to cope with trauma and the hardships of daily life. The series takes place in the late ’50s and early ’60s and focuses on a young chess prodigy named Beth Harmon. Beth struggles with an addiction to these tranquillisers, which she takes in massive quantities to help her chess strategy. The dysfunctional relationship between the protagonist, Beth, and her adopted mother, Alma, shows how women during this time used alcohol and drugs to deal with anxiety, insomnia, and the overall difficulties of everyday life. The show focuses on how the destruction of Beth’s addiction eventually makes her learn to come to terms with her own trauma. The Queen’s Gambit does an amazing job of exploring American culture by revealing how prominent alcohol and drug abuse really was for women during this time.
This show deals with overdose and drug and alcohol use which could be triggering for some.
10. Movie - Leaving Las Vegas – Nicholas Cage (watch the trailer here)
I watched this again since giving up drinking and found it quite hard to take my eyes off the screen. Ben is in the final stages of an alcoholic meltdown. Nicholas Cage is brilliant as the sad, yet likeable main character and as a viewer watching his downward spiral you want to reach through the screen and shake him. You see him being fired from his job, lose his home, burn all of his possessions from his past life and then move to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. It’s a love story in which his love of the bottle overrides the kindness of the people he meets on this dark path. It’s quite an old movie but the script and acting make it an absolute classic. Another sad tale illustrating where heavy drinking can lead us.
I hope you enjoy watching some of these shows. Don't forget to listen to the 'Sober Awkward Podcast' Available on iTunes and Spotify and go to the drunkmummysobermummy.com website for more information about being sober curious in this booze drenched world.